I Am an Idea Person by Jess Larson

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One of many great finds from our Spring Cleaning Day

Spring Cleaning is inevitable, but Girls in the Game’s spring cleaning this year took on a much greater purpose as we are getting ready for our move to Douglas Park. After 13 years we are leaving our beloved home at Union Park, which means digging through A LOT of boxes. We’ve spent the last couple of Fridays slogging through old paperwork that needs to be shredded, digging through bins of VHS tapes and uncovering other treasures from the pre-digital age. My favorite find of the cleaning days is a stack of girls’ drawings from an After School program in 2010.

The girls completed two different body-image exercises with their coaches. One was entitled “This Is Who I Am,” where they drew a picture of themselves and described their personalities. The second, called “Self-Portrait”, instructed the girls to fill out two halves of a circle with words that described first “How I see me…” and then “How others see me…”

Looking through the first exercise, what struck me most was our girls’ confidence in themselves and their abilities.

One girl described herself as “outgoing, smart, intelligent, creative, fun, sometimes sensitive, stylish, shy, colorful in different ways, really good singer & dancer, like baseball the most”

Another declared, “I am an idea person. I’m a gossip queen. I’m good at sports”

A third said, “Smart, likes to laugh, sweet, funny, respectful, trustful, nice, kind, likes softball, cares”

Then, I came to the second exercise, where the girls had to fill out how they saw themselves and then how they thought others saw them. This is just a small sample of the results:

How I see myself… How others see me…
Pretty, black, nice, smart, long hair, very fast Ugly, mean, slow, don’t like my long hair, can’t run
Fun, funny, blue, calm, lazy, energetic, crazy, active Lazy, mean, ugly, weak-minded, non-friendly
Silly, funny, smart, intelligent, short, bright, active Mean, ugly, funny, crazy, fun, artist, happy, sometimes mad and sad
Friendly, nice, awesome, cool, smart, cute, respectful Crazy, mean, funny, cuckoo, uncool

The first column read similar to the first exercise; girls were confident in themselves, their abilities and what they had to offer the world. But when it came to the second column, it was hard to find any of the sheets without the word “ugly”. For the vast majority of the papers, the second column was filled with negative words and stereotypes about girls, with a few positive words here and there.

When you look at the second column, it’s obvious that the girls are receiving a different message about the value of girls from the world at large than what they learn at Girls in the Game. Whether it’s their peers, the media as a whole, adults in their lives or their community, the idea that girls are somehow worth less is pretty blatant.

So why was I so excited to find these papers and drawings? Because there is hope that the first column can and will overcome that second column. There is hope within the statements “I am awesome” and “I am bright”. There is clear divide between what our girls think of themselves, and how they think the world sees them. Yet that did not stop them from filling in that first column with those powerful words about themselves, and more importantly, they didn’t go back and cross those powerful words out after filling in the second column. Through this exercise our girls are showing self-worth and an awareness of their own value.

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Organizations like Girls in the Game will continue to advocate on behalf of girls through programming, social media, awareness and living out our own mission and values, but the most powerful thing we can do for the girls is to give them the tools they need to advocate for themselves. Through exercises like the ones above, we can engage girls in thoughtful discussions about body-image and the media that they consume. Sports are one of the best avenues for girls to  develop a healthy body image and their own physical power, which is yet another “tool” in their self-advocacy toolbox.

As adults we can help them start to parse out their own understanding of their value versus what they hear from the world at large. On our end, we adults have a lot of work to do as we battle against that second column full of negative and appearance-focused ill-informed messages. We can (and should) take steps to change those messages every opportunity we have. I, for one, feel inspired by the girls’ ability to put pen to paper and accurately describe themselves through their own eyes, and I feel even more inspired to do my part alongside Girls in the Game to help them to never stop believing in column one.

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